We need your help here! Please be kind and compassionate in your answers, and if you know anyone who works with kids in situations like this, please share this post with them and encourage them to comment. Thank you and purrrrrs!
Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
We just adopted our first pet on Saturday, a two-month-old male tabby that my nine-year-old daughter has wanted for seven years. The problem I have is not with the cat, but with my two disabled sons. They are non-verbal, very mentally delayed, and they think we just adopted a great new toy and do not see this small cat as a living being. They have had almost no prior exposure to small animals, but we did not anticipate this behavior. We have tried for the past six days to teach the boys to be soft with kitty, but they like to use the kitty to act out things they have seen in movies, swinging the cat by his tail, picking him up by wrapping their hands around his little throat. The boys get in big trouble for this behavior but they are not deterred, not even by kitten scratches. We have given the cat his own medium-sized room full of toys and things to jump on, and the door to that room is locked so he can be safe, but he does not want to stay in the room, he wants out to play. We go in the room to play with him, my daughter and husband and I, but when we leave, he meows and meows and we feel terrible. He can only come out with absolute and complete supervision on my part, or I cannot be sure the boys will be safe with him. They have twice found our keys to get in and get the kitty themselves. My question is, am I over-reacting and not giving this enough time? I would like my boys to learn to be appropriate with this cat, but not at the cat’s expense. If this is not a safe environment, I would rather take the cat back to our no-kill animal rescue while he is still young and cute and able to quickly find a good home. What do you think?
Siouxsie: Wow, Mckenna, we really feel for you and your family. We applaud you for doing everything you can to keep this kitten safe, and for asking for help too.
Thomas: None of us have experience working with profoundly mentally disabled children, so we’re going to do the best we can for you, too. As you saw above, we’ve asked people who have experience with pets and mentally disabled children to comment, too.
Bella: From what you say, it does sound like this kitten isn’t safe in your home. The first thing we’d recommend is calling the rescue group and explaining your situation. Rescues may know of resources that can help you and your family keep this kitten and keep him safe.
Siouxsie: We recommend having a serious talk with your daughter. I’m sure she can see what’s going on, and I imagine it’s breaking her heart.
Thomas: Children understand a lot more than adults often give them credit for. We think it’s worth it to talk to your daughter and ask her open-ended questions about the situation. Kids can be pretty darn smart and intuitive, and she might have some ideas that maybe hadn’t occurred to you about how to keep the kitten and keep him safe.
Bella: And if she doesn’t, and she feels sad about how the kitten is being treated by her brothers, maybe she’ll understand that it might be better to let the kitty go back to the shelter before he gets too traumatized by how he’s being treated — and while he is still young and cute.
Siouxsie: If you do end up having to take this kitten back to the shelter, maybe you would be willing or able to bring her to the shelter to volunteer as a “cat socializer” — someone who takes time to pet and play with the cats.
Thomas: If the shelter will let you bring her to volunteer, even if she can’t have a cat at home, she’ll be able to love and play with cats, and she’ll be doing a wonderful thing by making the cats more adoptable by getting them used to children.
Bella: That in itself could make your little girl a hero to all kinds of cats. It’s not a substitute for a cat purring on your lap or sleeping next to you at night, but it might help her to feel better because she’s helping kitties find homes.
Siouxsie: With our experience and knowledge, this is the best advice we have for you. But we’re going to reach out for help in every way we can in order to find people who might be able to offer more help. Hopefully we’ll be able to connect you to other parents in your situation and they might be able to provide more advice based on experience.
Thomas: So please — if you’re a parent of a special-needs child or if you work with special-needs children, leave a comment. We need your help to help Mckenna and her family.
Bella: And if you happen to be in a Facebook group or support forum for special-needs families, please share our post there. It breaks our heart to think that a little girl might not be able to have a cat because her little brothers aren’t safe with him. Purrs and thank you.
I would return the kitten and maybe get an older cat…that way it can defend it’s self if your sons try and be rough with it…or maybe you shouldn’t have any pets till they are a lot older…I don’t mean to sound rude but I am a firm beliver that little children and baby animals shouldn’t be together…baby animals always get the bad end of that stick
I KNOW IT IS NOT EASY RAISING DISABLED CHILDREN, BUT DO FEEL VERY SORRY FOR A DEFENSELESS LITTLE KITTEN. PLEASE FIND A GOOD HOME FOR HIM BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE , OR HE DIES FROM ABUSE.
we are so sorry you are having to go through this Mckenna. our first instinct is that the kitten needs to go back to the shelter if you feel he isn’t safe with the boys. certainly if you explain the circumstances to the rescue, they will understand. rescues will take back their animals. it isn’t worth the risk of something happening to the kitten. unfortunately, it sounds like the boys just don’t understand the kitten is a living being and if they can get into the room then it isn’t safe either. and living in a room by himself isn’t fair to the kitten. we agree that maybe seeing if the rescue will let you volunteer with your daughter so she can get her kitten fix. again, we are so sorry
I would sit your daughter down and explain the situation; tell her as much as she loves the kitten, u fear it’s not safe 2 keep it at home with her brothers, where they may hurt or worse, kill it; I wud take it back 2 the shelter if it continues after the talk so it will be safer in a loving home; I understand ur sons’ disability and r not aware of what they’re doing, but I wud hate 4 an innocent animal 2 go through this and possibly lose its life, so u need 2 do what is best 4 this beautiful kitten; God love u ❤
I actually work with people who have intellectual disabilities, however I have not had any experience with a situation like this. I have to agree that this kitty is not safe in your home and leaving it in a room by itself, even with toys, is not best for the kitty. Your kitty needs interaction in order for it to grow into a healthy animal. I also agree that you should have that heart to heart with your daughter and explain to her why it is not in the best interest of the kitty to be in the home at this time. Even though this may hurt her, if the kitty stays around and your son’s hurt/kill it, she is going to be hurt more.
I also suggest that you enlist the help of a behavior therapist to help develop a treatment plan for your sons, one where they can learn how to be gentle. This will not happen over night, however I know with time, patience and a lot of love, it will be possible.
Take the kitty back, as it is obvious her/she is not safe in your home. I know your daughter will be heart broken, but that is better than the kitty being abused, left alone too much, or being killed. Maybe your daughter can volunteer at a rescue to help socialize kittens.
Mentioned on Facebook, but will repeat here: it’s obvious that the kitten is not in a safe situation. As traumatic as it will be to rehome the kitten, it will be a lot more traumatic for the little girl to discover the kitten has been killed or seriously injured by her brothers. It sounds as though this daughter has probably had to sacrifice a lot for her brothers, and this is just one more thing…it isn’t fair, but neither is having the kitten be in a dangerous situation.
HOWEVER…is there a grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, etc. who lives nearby who could take the kitten? That way the daughter could visit and be a part of the kitten’s life, and she wouldn’t lose it entirely. It might be a good compromise: the daughter gets to keep in touch with her cat; the cat is out of harm’s way and away from the boys. It also might give her a much-needed sanctuary away from her brothers.
And I also agree that while I’m sure these parents are doing everything they can, and more, for their boys – it might be time to tackle the issue of their treatment of animals in therapy. These boys are going to come across other animals at one point or another, and if they don’t learn to treat animals gently and compassionately that won’t end well.
I think Denise has some of the best ideas. It would be ideal if there was a nearby relative who could adopt the kitten and it could still be in the little girl’s life. Also looking at getting therapy for the boys to acclimate to living creatures is something that is necessary too, I believe. Plus having the little girl help out with the rescue (many of them have age limits, but if she and her mom could make it a regular outing together, I’m sure it would be okay) – she clearly wants to have a kitty in her life, and even if she can’t have one living in her house, she should have all the chances she can to be around them.
I am a retired counselor, but please do not take this as professional guidance. In fact, I suspect you have a team of professionals to assist you with your sons, and I suggest that you consult with them, particularly about your sons’ mental capacity for learning the empathy needed for handling pets.
If the arrangement for keeping the kitten in its own room is something you can sustain long term, the kitten will learn and eventually adjust to being on its own. Keeping up the supervision is a must though, for the cat and child’s sake. I worked with families who were able to manage this long term. I suspect that you may need to make that a permanent arrangement. If that isn’t possible, you may have to return the kitten, sad to say.
Things don’t look good, although you have obviously tried very hard. The boys don’t see the kitten as fragile and mortal. It may be that if you talk to your daughter, and discuss how things are, maybe the kitten needs to go back to the rescue. I don’t just want to say that’s it so here’s an idea for you and your daughter at least for now….
Can you both volunteer at the shelter or a rescue together? I know shelters often have a recommendation for children’s ages when they are allowed to work with animals – but if you are there as her mentor and guide, they may be approachable. Give it a try. It’s not perfect BUT it will allow your daughter to interact with the animals she obviously wants lots more time with.
Good luck, and our best wishes for a successful outcome.
It may not work for this situation, as these things take time, but my son who has ADHD and ASD responded well to social stories. These can be easy to maje yoyrself by either taking pictures of cats being treated appropriately or drawing pictures with short dialogue that help explain to the kids proper ways to interact with pets. I’ve made social stories with stick figure pictures that worked well for changing behavior. If the kids are disabled they are likely working with a SLP or therapist who can help you with this.
Unfortunately it may not be possible to make this work now. They may need to be slowly introduced to animals until you are sure they have the ability to treat them appropriately. Ask their therapy professionals what they think you should do. Those people would know best how quickly they catch on to new information. If there is an option to find a family who will let your daughter visit the kitten that might ease the blow for her. Locally, animal shelters won’t allow children to volunteer in shelters till they are 16.
Good luck. It’s a tough situation.
Yes, I believe you should return the kitten ASAP. I understand you want your boys to learn how to care for a pet, but the cat is quickly going to be damaged either physically, emotionally or both. We have a rescue Doberman that had to be removed from her family when they had a child and he tormented her. She was locked in a small room and kept away from the child. We’ve now had her for two years and she has had major difficulties adjusting to people. She is okay with me but is distrustful of my husband and daughter even though they are good to her.
Please also consider how your daughter will feel if the kitten is severely injured or killed. I wish there was an easy answer for you but this is an extremely tough situation.
I agree with Denise and Momwithpets. The kitten needs to be removed immediately. You didn’t say how old your sons are but if they are older it may be that you won’t be able to have any pets in your home. If the boys can’t be “reasoned” with or don’t truly understand when you talk to them about how to treat a pet, then you are taking a big chance with Kitty’s life. I have a Downs’ Syndrome adult in the family and he has always been good with the pets and doesn’t act out things he has seen on TV. Behavioral therapy if you haven’t already done this could be a big help. God Bless you in your journey with your sons.
I would recommend taking the kitten back to the rescue, unfortunately. I have rescued cats for over 30 years and presently have 11 rescues. To prevent this kitty from further potential trauma or injury because of the probable inability of your sons to respond humanely to an animal, no matter a kitten, cat or dog, I feel it’s best to let it go. I think it’s a wonderful suggestion and agree that your daughter become a volunteer at this or any no-kill shelter. As much as you love your boys, and daughter, an animal at their (boys) developmental age may not be suitable for a family animal companion. Your daughter will eventually understand given the kitties experience with them so far.
Thank you, everyone, for your advice. We have been coming to the conclusion that we need to have the rescue find a safer home for kitty. My sons are older, and in behavioral therapy, so we have been working on behavioral techniques to have them be gentle with the cat, but I think this is just going to take too long for them to be reliably gentle, and I think the kitten deserves better in the mean time. I appreciate the suggestion of having a relative take the kitten so my daughter could still see him. Our rescue requires that we do not re-home the kitten ourselves, but maybe they would be open to facilitating the cat’s adoption to a suitable relative. Thanks, again, for the advice.
quite honestly I have always thought that when developmental issues are this acute,
then they should be placed in a ‘home’ where there is supervision 24/7. with trained
consular’s, and staff that can deal with these kinds of children. the problem is children
that harm animals grow up to harm people, and these two have already stolen
the keys to get into the cat room so they can go on harming the kitten.
If the parents can’t properly supervise them then it’s only going to get worse. taking
the kitten out of the house doesn’t solve the real problem, and probably cause the daughter
to dislike her brothers moor than she already does.